Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Leaders Alter the Optics of Opt Out, Steer Clear of Solutions


As much as people may not like testing, it’s the only way available for us to document and to hold schools and school districts accountable. We can’t close the achievement gap unless we know what it is and where it is and how big it is.  
 Marc Morial 
 President, National Urban League   

is the only way to hold schools accountable?

That’s like saying the only way to keep your car running is to glance at its gauges . But what if the gauges malfunction or break? What if your check engine light means only that you forgot to tighten your gas cap again? What if your seat belt sensor is set off by a box of books?
Much like cars, many problems in public schools are difficult to diagnose. And though learning is more complicated than your car's cooling system, proponents and pushers of standardized tests are desperate to deduce it to a number in order to justify their self-serving schemes.
Parents, students and teachers across the nation are passengers in a turbocharged testing machine with a broken speedometer which will soon round narrow, rocky ledges. Airbag lights may finally have a good reason to turn on as more and more public schools plummet into privatization.  

In order to gauge learning  or determine how well our teachers and schools are running  many variables must be considered, all of which have zero to do with standardized tests . If it's unsafe and expensive to leave our car at the mercy of its gauges, then it’s immoral to leave our schools at the mercy of tests.         

Unfortunately, when inspecting our schools, instead of looking under the hood and kicking the tires, our leaders continue glancing at the gauges. 
Speaking of lame lemons, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently doubled downed on deform, hoping a thesaurus might help convince himself and others that test scores are also the only way to hold teachers and schools “accountable.”  Like Jeb Bush, Duncan is loathe to utter the words Common Core these days, for example, and has even found a synonym for high-stakes tests, referring to them as “student learning” in a recent interview.  
Replace the words “student learning” with "testing" and Duncan's infatuation with high-stakes tests rings clear:
I think having some connection between teacher evaluations and student learning testing makes sense. The goal of all great teachers is to make kids learn. But for folks to say there should be no connection between teacher evaluation and student learning testing I think actually demeans the profession.
Note that Duncan says the opposite of what over 200,000 New Yorkers (and counting) believe. Testing actually demeans the teaching profession.  

As the interview continues, Duncan finally trots out the word "testing", albeit shrouded in lies and equivocation:   

I think on the kids' side, there has been too much testing where there's duplikative [sic] tests, or redundant tests, or too much time doing test prep. That makes no sense. Part of what we're asking Congress to do in the fix of No Child Left Behind is to put a cap on what states can do in terms of testing. And the vast majority of testing is not coming from the federal level—it's coming from the state and local level. I do think it's important for kids to be tested annually.
It’s laughable that Duncan blames the metastasis of tests on the states, when anyone who can see Donald Trump's hairline knows that the federal government has clearly used No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top to force states into accepting the test-and-punish regimes entrenched today.
Duncan and others are also desperate to change the optics of Opt Out so that fewer parents join a movement which exposes and threatens to topple the privatization of public education.
Sadly, Duncan, the National Urban League, and even the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) are also still spinning cynicism, suggesting that affluent (rich and white) parents in the suburbs are somehow robbing inner-city (poor and black) children of a sound education by Refusing the tests.  NYSED's characterization of students who opted out as being "mostly white" from "low-need" schools who performed poorly last year eerily echoes Duncan's infamous "white suburban moms" comment from two years ago.

Perhaps former 
New York State Education Commissioner
John King, who now works for Duncan in Washington, can tell us if he agreed with Duncan's ignorant intimations about Opt Out all along. Yes, John King is forgotten but not gone from the annals of New York education deform.

Maybe King could also investigate what the hell is going on in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, and finally get to the bottom of whether or not it was, as Duncan callously claimed at the time, "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans."

If tests are not the answer, skeptics will ask, then what is?
How do we rescue all kids from disillusion and degradation?

In other words, if its gauges are broken, how will we know which parts of the car need maintenance?

Since it seems education deformers treat windshield wiper warnings more seriously than most, perhaps they can assist in devising a formula to measure our schools that does not include test scores as a factor.

This formula will require our best and our brightest  schooled in the intricacies of Boron  who don't waste their time blogging.
The formula must include MANY variables to determine whether schools are succeeding or failing.
Below, The Pen is Mightier than the Person is pleased to offer eleven variables, adapted from Diane Ravitch's groundbreaking book Reign of Error, that could be used in this formula. And instead of calling the product a value-added measure (VAM), which sounds too much like a failed coupon campaign, we'll call it a Ravitch-added measure (RAM), much more valid than any multiple-choice test:
Ravitch-added Measures (RAM) of a 
Highly-Effective School:

      1. Is access to pre-natal care in your district free and convenient? If the answer is NO, your school's RAM will not be affected.  

      2. Is access to daycare and/or pre-school in your district free and convenient? Once again, your school's RAM will not be affected if the answer is NO.
How diverse is your school’s curriculum? How many art, English, and music electives do you offer, for example? Extra-points will be added to your RAM for any physical education electives.
      4. D
oes your school have small classes? This is one of the easiest variables to measure. Let’s cap classes at 20. The lower your average class size, the higher your RAM.
      5. A
ll charter schools within your district must be fiscally transparent, and PROVE they are not manhandling money. They must accept all students and also not discourage their faculty and staff from joining unions. Any infractions related to funding and/or the rights of students and workers will lead to an automatic revocation of their charter. Should corrupt charter schools be identified as operating within your district, however, your school's RAM will not be affected. 

      6. Are medical and social services widely available in your district? Once again, your school's RAM will not be affected if the answer is NO. 
      7. How much does your school embrace teacher-designed tests and lessons? The more autonomy teachers possess, the higher your RAM. Merit pay (yes, merit pay) could even be awarded to teachers who take extra classes for enrichment. Teachers could even be paid for uploading lessons and assessments to a state-run website which other teachers could access for ideas, free-of-charge. Let’s pay teachers $20 per lesson and go from there.
      8. Do 100% of the teachers in your school hold a teaching certificate? Do 100% of the administrators have at least 10 years of experience in the classroom? Any numbers lower than these will lower your RAM. Experienced administrators, by the way, know good teaching when they see it, and therefore will not need trumped-up charges and test scores to remove tenured teachers.  
       9. If your district is not controlled by an elected school board, your RAM will be lowered. After all, what would people say if one person controlled the United States government?   
       10. What efforts are being made by agencies within your district to reduce racial segregation and poverty? Little or no proof of these efforts will not affect your RAM. 
       11. Does your school recognize that public education is a public responsibility? As evidence of this, your school must produce an annual portfolio   created by teachers, administrators, parents and students   which documents how your school positively impacts the community. Examples of this might include fundraisers, attendance at plays and sporting events, and scholarships awarded to students by local groups and businesses.  

Implementing RAM will be expensive and require diligence, no doubt, but cities and states can no longer afford to shun their schools. Besides, who could deny aid to a school whose RAM is stagnant due to timid attempts by the community to reduce poverty and racism?

New York Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is example of a politician who might consider adopting RAM. Overwhelmed by his bullying and bullshit, Heastie and other heavy-hearted legislators let Governor Andrew Cuomo have his way in this year's budget, and only threw gasoline on the Opt Out Movement when they voted to strip teachers of due process rights in the name of test scores.

If his recent statements are any indication, however, Assemblyman Heastie may have at last come to his senses about education, finally talking the talk:

I really think that we shouldn't be looking at education alone anymore or mental health alone anymore or poverty alone anymore. I think that we have to look at the total family structure and see why it is that students are going into school not prepared for these challenges. And I think a lot of it has to do with what's going on at home and their neighborhoods. Even super teacher may not be able to get through to a student whose life outside of school has issues.
                         Carl Heastie (D-NY)
                         August 17,2015
If Heastie and other legislators are finally prepared to walk the walk toward educational justice, people will join them.  

And unlike Cuomo and Duncan's plans, they won't have to RAM it down their throats.  
Not a sham.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Education and Incarceration in the Brave New Nation

In a 1949 letter to George Orwell, Aldous Huxley wrote:
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.
More prescient words have rarely been written.

Though nothing new, the kindness and cruelty our leaders use to persuade the populace is maturing into something frightening these days in the United States, where it rages like bi-polar twins at a family reunion.

Thanks to the Citizens United decision, the same billionaires who own the Big Banks and Big Media also own the politicians, and Huxley's "instruments of government" drip from drums of tear gas and glossy political ads.

Government officials around the country wave diseased olive branches and dollars in the face of the Opt Out Movement, for example, while sharpening arrows for anyone on the streets after dark.

In New York State, newly-minted education commissioner and Mrs. Doubtfire’s sister-from-another-mister MaryEllen Elia thinks parents and communities just don’t understand why the state must continue clubbing our kids and their schools with inane standardized tests.  The commissioner believes people can still fall in love with tests whose sole purpose is to enrich plutocrats on the sweat of students and middle-class workers.  The unelected Elia holds an olive branch in one hand and a fist in the other, threatening to coax people into submission if she cannot cajole them first.

With the number of students refusing to take the federally-mandated tests quadrupling in one year, the commissioner, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, and even Governor Andrew Cuomo have to realize that the horses are out of the barn, but they will try—at least for now—to corral them using the pricey tools of public relations instead of the tools of incarceration. Charlatans like Jeremiah "I'm not an Educator" Kittredge from Families for Excellent Schools and Jenny Sedlis from StudentsFirstNY, for instance, will continue spewing forth commercials promoting Cuomo Core and fraudulent vulture charter schools.     

Try as they may, NYSED will not sweep away the Refuse movement.

Speaking of Cuomo and incarceration, t
he governor and other leaders for that matter have been silent about tactics within the state's prisons that would make Dick Cheney blush.  A recent report in The New York Times details what took place at the Clinton Correctional Facility in the aftermath of the infamous escape of two convicted murderers, when officials allegedly tried to beat information out of inmates, and yes, even threatened to waterboard them if they didn't comply.  

To make matters worse, during his jaunt through the jail, the Lobbyist for the Students was filmed talking to an inmate, and punctuated his monologue with his "best tough-guy stare", according to the inmate. 

Just hours later, the same inmate was handcuffed and bludgeoned in a broom closet by guards who wore no name badges.

"Right this way, sir."

When someone is tortured shortly after the state's most powerful elected leader stared him down, in the words of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, "that's not going to be good for anybody." 

Contrary to the whims of groups like the National Urban League—who recently gave Cuomo an award for “leadership in criminal justice reform", ordinary Americans face heavy-handed, heavily-funded efforts by Cuomo and others for opting out and speaking out.

And while Cuomo may be proud of shutting down some of the prisons his father opened, it didn't stop him from recently shutting down the mouth of activist Allen Roskoff. Roskoff, President of the Jim Owls Liberal Democratic Club, was arrested for disrupting an event where Cuomo received another bogus award, this time for his "progressive leadership."

Evidently, modern progressivism entails attacking public education and the First Amendment, among other things.

Roskoff ( 2nd from l.) was even more shocked to end up in a blue and white.  

Across the country, bullies abound. But they are not merely confined to buses and school locker rooms. They also lurk in state houses and corporate boardrooms, quick to shove verdicts and public policies down people's throats before they even smell them.

It is a lust for power like no other, since the technology of today is like no other. Huxley's "infant conditioning" and "narco-hypnosis" come standard on iPads and in bottles of prescription pills, after all.

And it is also not surprising that Commissioner Elia vows the tests will be embraced once they're computerized; technology has a knack for lulling many into submission.

And if they can't lull us into submission, they'll beat us.